Ajax set the first step to a prolonged stay in Europe Tuesday in the home match against Maccabi Tel-Aviv. ,,I am very pleased with the way the team have played'', said Ronald Koeman after the 3-0 victory. ,,We were very convincing from the beginning.'' Especially the teamspirit was much greater than in the past weeks.
The Ajax players knew what was expected of them in the home match for the UEFA Champions League against Maccabi Tel-Aviv: to win, nothing else. They needed it and the staff and the supporters needed it after the weak performances of late. And because Ajax had not won on the highest European level in the last five matches.
Everybody seemed aware of the need for a solid win and Ajax attacked immediately, using the wings well. On the left through Nicolae Mitea and on the right through Wesley Sonck. That was a remarkable decision by Koeman because, although Mauro Rosales is injured, he has right wingers Daniel de Ridder and Tom de Mul in the squad. But Sonck had played on the right before, although that happened in the Ibrahimovic era. The coach could field Rafael van der Vaart again, after he had to sit out the match against Heerenveen last Saturday with an injury. And the captain had played as a striker before, so Koeman could use that option. ,,You try to break a pattern'', Koeman explained. ,,When Van der Vaart and Sonck saw the line-up this morning with their numbers on those positions, they had to laugh. That's a sign that they saw it like that too.''
The tactical move payed off immediately. An eager, enegetic and sharp Ajax overwhelmed the team from Israel in the first half hour. After only four minutes the home side went up 1-0. Wesley Sonck, under criticism lately, scored and celebrated his goal with the bench. The tone was set. In the 21st minute Nigel de Jong headed in the 2-0 and rushed to the sideline to celebrate with the players and coaches there and when Rafael van der Vaart made it 3-0 - another header - he too ran to the Ajax bench. All of a sudden, Ajax were up 3-0 and all was well. At times the young heroes, with a good Maxwell and a very fit Hatem Trabelsi, were a bit laconic in defence, but mediocre Maccabi Tel-Aviv could not capitalise. Coach Nir Klinger explained his team's poor performance: ,,We are not used to being down so quickly. My team was in shock.''
Ajax took a comfortable lead into halftime and was cheered enthousiastically when walking toward the dressing room, where three days earlier all they heard was boohs. ,,We played very convincingly from the beginning, our position play was good and I thought midfield was great today'', said Koeman who was also surprised by the play of Hatem Trabelsi. ,,It is as if he's never been away.''
Although Ajax were always in control, the margin was not widened further. Johnny Heitinga had two big chances but it stayed 3-0. After an hour Koeman brought on Nourdin Boukhari for Mitea and eleven minutes later he let Stanley Aborah make his European debut. ,,He is very talented and only seventeen years old'', Koeman said. ,,He is physically strong, quick, and he has a great future ahead of him. You want to put a player like that out there and tonight there was that possibility. He can also learn a lot from a match like this one.''
The only disappointment was Wesley Sneijder's miss from the penalty spot. The attack that led to the spot kick however, was to be treasured for its beauty.
Koeman could be, and was, satisfied with his team's performance against Maccabi Tel-Aviv. ,,When I see the players react to one another like they did tonight, that is a basis to go on like this and then we can be very hard to beat.''